Air District Claims California's Central Valley Meets Clean Air Standards

Monitor violations and public accounts of bad air days ignored


Paul Cort / Sarah Jackson, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6725
Art Unger, Sierra Club, (661) 323-5569

Despite continued violations and complaints from residents, the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District today submitted a letter to the California Air Resources Board requesting that the San Joaquin Valley Air Basin be reclassified as in attainment for the federal health-based standard for airborne particulate matter that is 10 microns and smaller, or PM10. This comes on the heels of a worrisome winter season in which air district officials held their collective breath as thick clouds of dust and smoke over the Thanksgiving holiday threatened to sideline attainment hopes.

Yet violate the standards they did. According to the EPA, air quality may exceed the federal standards for particulate pollution no more than three days over a three year period. For the period 2003 through 2005, monitors operated by the District have measured exceedances of the national standards on 13 days. The District hopes to ignore these monitoring results, but EPA policy specifically requires the use of all monitoring data.

“The District is attempting to cherry-pick air quality data to avoid having to further control particulate pollution in the Valley,” says Paul Cort, a staff attorney with Earthjustice. “EPA will not and cannot find an area has met the national standards when data demonstrate an on-going problem.”

While the District concedes that additional controls on fine particulates are needed, their request for an attainment finding would allow the District to ignore weaknesses in their current dust control measures. This would be a particular boon for agribusiness, which is the largest contributor to the coarse particulate problem in the Valley.

“We all know the problem has not been solved,” says Art Unger of Bakersfield. “Last Thanksgiving, people throughout the southern Valley were complaining about the air quality. The air monitors in Corcoran and Bakersfield confirmed exceedances on five days that week, and people could see and feel there was a problem even without the monitors. It is a shame that the District is looking for an out rather than a solution.”

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